The dance presentations at Incredible India @ 60 in New York 
- Arun Aguiar, NYC
October 19, 2007 

The six-minute-long "Evolution of Dance" video, a whimsical one-man capsule of the most popular American dance fads of the past half-century, is the most popular video on YouTube with almost 60 million views since it was first uploaded a year ago. See
And encapsulation – together with synthesis – was the name of the game for New Delhi-based choreographer Madhavi Mudgal when she successfully presented, in less than an hour, a taste of the finest of Indian classical dance traditions to an invited New York audience that filled the 2,700-capacity Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for the gala inauguration on September 23 of 'Incredible India @ 60,' a four-day celebration of Indian art, music, dance and cuisine mixed with meetings of business leaders and overseas Indians that was jointly sponsored by the Indian Ministry of Tourism and the Confederation of Indian Industry. 
The audience loved it. Titled 'Sankriti - Indian classical dances in a composite presentation,' the performance brought together the disparate styles of Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kathak, Manipuri, Kathakali and Mohiniattam dancers while invoking the common tradition of the Natya Shastra. The piece began with an invocation from the Rig Veda, and continued to music composed by Madhup Mudgal. 
Bharatanatyam dancers from Geeta Chandran's Natya Vriksha company led off with the notes of Krishna's flute heralding the performance of the Rasa. Next up were Manipuri dancers led by Manipuri Nrityashram's Charu Sija Mathur who brought romance and grace to the stage.  The sensuous and sinuous forms of Odissi were presented by dancers from Mudgal's Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. Kathakali dancers from New Delhi's International Center for Kathakali in skirts and elaborate face make-up brought a change in tempo as they presented the vanquishing of the demonic by the divine. Bharati Shivaji's Mohiniattam dancers drew a gasp when they poured water brought from five different Indian rivers into a common vessel.  Finally came the sparkling footwork and whirling movements of Prerana Shrimali's Kathak Kendra dancers. 
A tiny detail made a big difference: the strategic placement of two raised platforms at stage rear left and right allowed the audience to see each dance style separately when there was more than one dance troupe on the stage. The grand finale saw all the featured forms come together showering benedictions on all through the celebratory symbol of Vasant.
All the dance companies and dancers were from New Delhi, which enabled the dancers to rehearse their combined choreography together, and go on stage the night of their arrival in New York.
A repeat presentation was scheduled to take place the next night at the same venue, but without opening remarks and welcome speeches by visiting Ministers and invited American dignitaries, thereby allowing time for group presentations of each of the individual dance styles, following their combined appearance in the composite Sankriti performance. 
Alas for the dancers, the event organizers failed to attract the attention of American media or dance critics, so the performances went unreported. Moreover, while the organizers filled the seats on the opening night, over 70% of the audience were NRI's rather than mainstream Americans.  And, with camera and video use by the public prohibited in the Avery Fisher Hall, it seems unlikely that a pirate video of Sankriti will ever become a viral hit on YouTube.
An Olympic-sized contingent of folk dancers accompanied the classical dancers to New York. They performed during the daytime and early evenings at the South Street Seaport and Bryant Park. Except for an inept troupe of bhangra dancers, they were of uniformly high quality.  Some of the folk styles had never before been seen in America, not even by NRI's.  But once again, the organizers' publicity failed to impress the mainstream audience.  The folk artists performed 10-minute sets to audiences of 100-300 persons, most of them Indian Americans, many from New Jersey, who settled down to watch the performances all day and into the setting sun. 
Synthesis was an overarching target for the folk dance presentations as well, though no claim was publicly made that they all owed their origins to common roots.   Sadly, there was barely any interpretive commentary to accompany the presentations. And Moitree Pahari, the founder-director of Lok Chanda, the 15-yr-old New Delhi based folk arts company that coordinated the folk dance presentations was so laconic that not only could I barely get a couple of words of explanation out of her when I spoke to her one on one, but she also deigned to take a bow when the emcees pressed her to come out after the choreographed 'Call of Peace' massed dancers finale that brought all the folk artists together while percussionist Sivamani pounded the drums on the closing night at the South Street Seaport. 
So, while it was a treat to see a folk dance trio from Uttar Pradesh perform the mayor dance with elaborate peacock feathers, the audience was none the wiser for who they were, from whence they hailed, what was the purpose of the dance, and what were its roots. Ditto for lavani dancers from Maharashtra, langa and manghaniyar musicians and kalbelia dancers from Rajasthan, and the numerous troupes from the north-eastern Indian states who performed Magh Bihu (from Assam), Thang Tha and Dhol Chalam (from Manipur), Cheraw (from Mizoram), Singhi Cham (from Sikkim), to name a few. The Sangeet Natak Akademi, the sponsoring body for all the dance presentations, had produced an informative and illustrated monograph on most of the folk dances that were presented, and I picked up a copy on the opening day, but did not see it in the hands of audience members on the following days. 
The folk dancers had to share the stage with Bollywood dancers choreographed by Saroj Khan, and musical performances by bands led by Remo Fernandes, Hariharan (Colonial Cousins), and Sivamani. The bands, particularly Remo Fernandes’s troupe, threw the folk dancers' programs off-schedule and further limited their already brief appearances, while consuming vast amounts of time in sound check while the audience sat and twiddled their thumbs. Snippets of Kathakali, Theyyam, Mohiniattam, Thiruvathira, and Kerala Natanam were labeled in a printed program as "folk dance and music" and thrown into this mix.
The best-attended public presentations in the Incredible India programs were the fashion shows by Raghavendra Rathore, Wendell Rodricks and Ritu Kumar. I saw the latter two draw prolonged applause from the over 3,000 people (once again, mostly Indian Americans) who crowded the sides of the stage into the late evening for their Bryant Park shows. (A few weeks later, Kumar opened her first store outside India in Edison, New Jersey with two collections, a traditional one that includes saris, wedding trousseaus, and evening outfits, and a younger line.)
Overall, the cultural presentations at Incredible India were well presented, supported by dramatic props and excellent sound, lighting, and stage facilities, and very obviously they were meticulously planned both in India as also at the various site locations in New York. The overall budget for all cultural, business and commercial activities for the four days was rumored to be in excess of $10 million. The troupes included 45 classical dancers and accompanying musicians, 140 folk dance performers, 10 master craftspersons who displayed their trades in spacious booths at Bryant Park, 15 chefs, 15 technical assistants, and sand sculptor Sudarshan Patnaik who created an imitation Taj Mahal at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. 
If Sunil Bharti, head of the CII, was hoping to present American business leaders locked in private deal-making with a public assertion of India's claim to cultural quality and diversity, the presentations would have more than delivered the goods. But if he wanted to really get New York City, let alone the whole of America, to stand up and take notice, this was poor return on investment. This is a city where entrepreneurs and artists and governments from all over the world compete for attention, and without mass turnouts, and without elaborate editorial print and TV pre-and post-event coverage, even two full-page New York Times advertisements at a cost of around $150,000 each to herald the start and the end of the four-day showcase can be and quite probably were lost and forgotten in the blink of an eye. 
A full listing of all the events and activities that made up Incredible India @ 60 was available at